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Recently The Wall Street Journal ran an article we thought worth sharing about “what research tells us about effectively taming your inbox, when to use all caps, whether to use emoticons, how quickly to respond to message – and much more.”

(Well, we guess, that should cover it.)  Here’s what they found…

  • Replying to email promptly? Not always a good thing.  In companies whose cultures “emphasize speed of response, workers are more stressed, less productive, more reactive and less likely to think strategically.”
  • Handling email after hours? Also detrimental, the Journal report opines.  While some may feel more pressure to respond, those who do aren’t necessarily more efficient – they simply generate a higher volume of mail without actually getting more work done.
  • On the other hand… findings from a study of extroverts suggest that when they are working on routine tasks, “being interrupted by an email notification might be good for them – the social stimulation… may help avoid boredom and complete tasks more efficiently.”
  • When’s the best time to send an email? Studies show that when faced with a screen packed with information, people focus on what’s on top, so you want your email to correspond to when people are checking.  Based on a study of 16 billion emails, it was found that people “replied more quickly early in the week, and those replies were also longer. “ The same applied to time of day – between 8:00 AM and noon was best.  Apparently then, your best bet is to fire off your most important missives on a Monday morning.
  • What about email as a negotiation tool? Here, take advantage of email’s strengths, as most would agree that as a negotiating tool it pales in comparison to the face-to-face meeting, right?  Email’s strengths include ”the ability to rehearse what to say and convey a lot of information in a clear specific form that people can refer back to later on.”  As one researcher said, “if you understand how to use email effectively, it can be very helpful for your negotiations.”
  • SOME all caps is fine. It’s a long held tenet of email that using ALL CAPS is shouting!  But research says that’s not always right.  When used judiciously a word or two in caps can provide emphasis, communicate urgency or inject humor.  Just don’t do your whole email that way.
  • What about emoticons? Turns out, those little faces and pictures have been shown to help with comprehension, they shave a bit of negativity out of a message (or add a note of positivity), and are fine to use with people you know.  The caveat is to avoid using them in the wrong circumstances, such as in an introductory business email that sets the wrong first impression in a business context.  People may view you as ‘less competent’ and will thus be less likely to share information with you.
  • Take the time to view messages from the other person’s perspective. Research found that people are “consistently overconfident in their ability both to understand emotion in email and to convey it.”  Instead of skimming emails and firing off quick responses, they say you should take the extra time to view those exchanges from the other person’s perspective.

Good email communication, the Journal concludes, “is not about our intentions, but about the meaning that other people assign to what we write.”  In other words, the way people read your email might be different from how you thought you wrote it.  It happens… all the time.  They suggest asking yourself, “This is what I meant, but is this what the other person will get?”

 

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